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Post fire near Gorman surpasses 15,000 acres, becoming California's largest this year -- thus far

Grace Toohey, Hayley Smith and Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES — Gusty winds, high temperatures and dry air continued to fuel a major wildfire in northern Los Angeles County on Monday that surpassed 15,000 acres burned to become the state’s largest blaze of the year.

The Post fire, burning mostly dry grasses and brush in the Gorman area south of the Tejon Pass, was just 8% contained Monday morning, said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesperson Craig Little.

“It’s a safe bet that it’s going to grow to be larger at this point,” Little said. “It’s still a wind-driven fire.”

He said the fire had grown a couple of hundred acres since Sunday.

Wind gusts near the fire reached 60 to 65 mph Sunday night, and, while the winds were expected to weaken considerably Monday to about 40 mph, they are likely to increase again at night, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ariel Cohen. High temperatures in the area were forecast to reach the high 80s Monday with low relative humidity, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“Conditions have continued to support the rapid spread of the wildfire,” Cohen said. Red flag warnings — alerts for dangerous fire conditions — were in effect for the area through at least Tuesday evening, with relative humidity expected to drop into the single digits Tuesday, the weather service warned.

Such severe warnings had also been issued across large swaths of inland California, with the alerts forecasting winds that carry “the potential for rapid fire spread,” from the northern Sacramento Valley through the Antelope Valley.

At least one new wildfire ignited Monday, burning about 200 acres in Palm Springs, according to local officials. Crews had not yet contained any part of the fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The precarious fire conditions kicked up over the weekend, when more than 15 fires sparked across California, burning more than 20,000 acres, the majority of which were still not fully contained Monday, according to the Cal Fire website. Several triggered evacuations and damaged buildings, including the Post fire in L.A. County.

There had been predictions for a subdued start for the state’s wildfire season this year, given a series of late-season, moisture-heavy storms, but this new spate of fires heightened concerns.

“It’s pretty early and this is pretty large fire,” Little said of the Post fire. “We can always hope, but I’m thinking there’s going to be more of this in the future for the summer. ... It’s very early for a fire of this magnitude.”

Such early season fires are feeding primarily on heat-dried grasses, the growth of which exploded during two back-to-back wet winters. More dangerous fires that engulf larger trees and plants are likely in store for later this year, according to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with UCLA.

“We could, in fact, see a very active finish to fire season 2024, but we aren’t there yet, despite the current activity level,” Swain said during a briefing Monday. “This is not yet indicative of really active conditions.”

In particular, the forested, high-elevation areas that have endured some of the state’s worst wildfires in recent memory are still moist following two strong wet seasons and haven’t yet started to display much wildfire activity.

That could change as conditions get hotter and drier for longer stretches of time, Swain said. The “transition point” is likely to occur sometime in July at lower elevations and August at higher elevations, with fire activity possibly lasting longer than usual due to two years of vegetation build-up.

“Expect September — and maybe even October and parts of November in some areas — to feature very active fire conditions this season,” Swain said, adding that blazes that ignite later in the season could become increasingly intense.

 

The Post fire on Saturday had already forced about 1,200 people to evacuate from the Hungry Valley Park and Pyramid Lake areas, not far from the 5 Freeway, according to firefighters. On Monday, officials also ordered areas south of Pyramid Lake to be evacuated, including the Oak Flats Campground. An evacuation warning was also issued for Paradise Ranch Estates.

The fire has destroyed an auto shop and threatened dozens of other buildings. One person has been injured, Little said.

The mountainous terrain has forced the firefighting effort to rely more heavily on air crews, he said, but high winds have made water drops less effective.

More than 1,100 firefighters and half a dozen helicopters continued to battle the flames Monday. The Ventura County Fire Department and U.S. Forest Service were aiding in the effort.

In Sonoma County, the Point fire has burned more than 1,000 acres and several structures south of Lake Sonoma. It was 20% contained Monday morning, according to Cal Fire, after starting Sunday afternoon.

“Fire activity subsided overnight,” said Ben Nicholls, a division chief with Cal Fire’s Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit. He said winds were forecast to be weaker than Sunday, which officials hoped would improve firefighting conditions and allow crews to strengthen protection near threatened structures.

An evacuation order and warning remained in place for residents near Dry Creek Valley.

In Hesperia, more than 1,100 acres had been burned by the Hesperia fire, prompting road closures and an evacuation warning. The fire was 30% contained Monday, according to Cal Fire and the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

But one weekend won’t predict the state’s fate for the rest of fire season, especially given the number of other factors at play, including the current transition from the El Niño weather pattern to La Niña, Swain said.

La Niña is associated with drier conditions along the West Coast and in Southern California in particular. La Niña was last in place during the state’s three driest years on record, 2020 through 2022, which also saw the state’s biggest wildfire seasons on record.

Climate change is also driving warmer global temperatures and a thirstier atmosphere, both of which can extract more water from the landscape and pave the way for hotter and faster fires in the West and other arid areas, Swain said.

What’s more, the upcoming Fourth of July holiday is also often linked to wildfire ignitions, and there is potential for that pattern to repeat this year, he added.

“The good news is increasingly in the rearview mirror,” Swain said. “As these conditions continue to rapidly warm up, dry out and get windier, the bad news is that I think that the back half of this season is going to be much more active — with a lot more concerning level of wildfire activity in a lot of areas — than the first half.”

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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